About six months after the release of ‘Left 4 Dead,’ Valve Corporation revealed the first teaser for ‘Left 4 Dead 2,’ promising a prompt release date in November 2009. A single year development cycle, something totally foreign to Valve, spurred a bout of initial controversy. The real story is simply a developer known for ridiculous tardiness (the so-called ‘Valve time’) being on the ball for once. ‘Left 4 Dead 2’ is great.
For those unaware, ‘Left 4 Dead’ is about four survivors fighting through zombie-infested locations in search of escape. It is a four-player cooperative first person shooter, notable for the hordes of zombies on screen and the intense coordination necessary for success. It also features an eight-player mode, where four players play as zombies trying to kill the other four human players.

‘Left 4 Dead 2’ introduces us to four new survivors – Rochelle, the ill-characterized token female; Coach, the older father figure; Nick, the stylish and sensible maverick; and Ellis, the endearing southern kid complete with a love for pyrotechnics and stock car racing. Rochelle stands out for a lack of creativity, almost always simply providing a foil to other characters. The game features five lengthy campaigns, providing a virtual safari through a zombie infested American South. A burning hotel, a carnival, bayous and finally a romanticized New Orleans French Quarter await exploration. The game features more noteworthy set piece events than the original – objectives beyond ‘survive for given amount of time’ appear. These discourage the camping that was a standard practice in ‘Left 4 Dead,’ and as such, greatly improves the game. The new special infected zombies seem designed to curtail the boring play style that was occasionally optimal in the previous game. All this creates a faster, more focused and more fun game.
‘ By the end of the first hour, the players have accomplished something, or at least progressed past an oppressive situation. The point is, the sense that ‘Left 4 Dead’ was essentially a footrace with zombies playing the role of hurdles is not as prevalent in this installment.

New weapons help round out the package. The new weapons and equipment afford a much greater sense of individuality and customization for a given player. You can swap out your handgun for a very satisfying and equally useful melee weapon. Laser sights and upgraded ammo can be added to any gun. A few notable guns from left field include the chainsaw (a melee weapon more powerful than the others limited by ammo) and the grenade launcher that demands a completely different play style than the other gun types.

There are also various aesthetic changes made to ‘Left 4 Dead 2.’ Of particular note is the warm and illuminated color scheme – whereas ‘Left 4 Dead’ was characterized by dark hallways, dreary alleyways, foggy nights and pitch-black forests, ‘Left 4 Dead 2’ takes place largely at midday, or in at least somewhat lit areas. This change in lighting highlights a change in tone. ‘Left 4 Dead’ was about horror and emulating the imagery of zombie movie standbys, whereas ‘Left 4 Dead 2’ has a more varied tone and a larger, perhaps satirical, focus on the ridiculous nature of the situation.
Also striking is the new gore system. Rarely before has such care gone into the exact anatomy of a horizontal gash along the chest. Occasionally, a zombie will continue to fight despite gaping wounds, lumbering towards you and screeching despite a likely excruciatingly painful missing limb.

‘Left 4 Dead 2’ is everything you would want from something named ‘Left 4 Dead 2.’ Any complaints regarding length (you can complete the game in about five hours) are totally meaningless -I don’t buy video games by the hour. I’m buying an experience. Furthermore, this is a multiplayer experience meant to be repeated and explored on different settings and modes. ‘Left 4 Dead 2’ is available for PC and Xbox 360. I played on PC.

Atlas is a member of the class of 2012.

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